Chilean picture book publisher Editorial Amanuta explores off-the-beaten-path topics in Latin American history and the folktales of indigenous people, in such titles as Sabores de América/The Flavors of America (2009), Son tantas cosas/So Many Things (2016), and Atlas americano/American Atlas (2017). Dozens of Amanuta’s titles have received accolades from such organizations as the Bologna Children’s Book Fair and UNESCO, and five have been included in the White Ravens list from the International Youth Library, which highlights the most compelling children’s and young adult titles.
The brainchild of cousins Ana María Pavez and Constanza Recart, Amanuta was conceived to fill a void in the local publishing industry: picture books that reflected Chile’s identity. “Our idea was not to have a business, but to create a cultural project,” says Pavez. When she was at Yale studying for her master’s degree in archeology, Pavez came across the works of Eric Carle. She was smitten by the beauty of the illustrations, the rhyming text, the uncomplicated design. She was also in awe of the sheer volume of literature available in the U.S. for the very young. “Our children didn’t have access to literature conceived in their own culture,” says Pavez. “We wanted children in Chile to have that.”
Upon returning to Santiago, she found in Recart, then a child psychiatrist, the perfect partner. In 2002, Amanuta launched with Kiwala, a series of picture books that used animals from the Andes to tell the stories of indigenous people and their natural world. The fictional stories references real iconography, animals, and plants. Encouraged by good sales and reviews, Amanuta continued along that path, publishing folktales and nonfiction titles that were written and illustrated by Chilean artists and illustrators.
Then came Sabores de América, which surveys the continent’s indigenous foods, in 2009. “With that title we stopped being just Chilean and just for children. We crossed that barrier,” says Pavez about the award-winning title. Scholastic later published the paperback version in the U.S.
Amanuta had another big break in the international scene at the Bologna Book Fair in 2014. The publisher brought to the fair four newly released versions of classic children’s fairy tales—Caperucita Roja (Little Red Riding Hood), Cenicienta (Cinderella), Blanca Nieve en la casa de los enanos (Snow White), and La Bella Durmiente (Sleeping Beauty)—which won the prestigious Bologna Ragazzi Award in the New Horizons category.
These were no ordinary fairy tales: the books took as their text verse versions of the stories written and published in literary magazines in the 1920s by poet Gabriela Mistral, South America’s first Nobel laureate. The poems were brought out of obscurity by literary critic Manuel Peña, who presented them to the editors at Amanuta. “Each book is very special,” says Recart. “We kept the original text and paired it with illustrations by different artists.” Each book includes a brief afterword about historical context and the literary publication in which the poem originally appeared. The four poems were not edited for current sensibilities, leaving in even a gory detail in the demise of Caperucita, who is not saved by a lumberjack.
Amanuta now wants to broaden its editorial focus to encompass other cultures. El camino de Marwan/Marwan’s Journey (2016), a picture book about a young refugee that received this year’s Bologna Ragazzi Award and will be translated into seven additional languages, marks another departure for the editors. While they have always worked with Chilean artists and writers, this time they chose a team from Spain. “This [story] has little to do with our identity,” says Pavez. “But it is extremely important for children in Chile to see the reality of others.”
The recently released Atlas americano (American Atlas) covers each country in both South and North America, using detailed illustrations and brief captions to highlight food, music, cultural figures, flora, fauna, and other cultural elements. Mi cuaderno de haikús (My Haiku Notebook), about the origin, art, and technique of the Japanese poem, and Empatía (Empathy), created for adults and children to read together, are due in 2018.
Although the company does not have an exclusive distribution arrangement in the U.S., many of its titles are available at U.S. independent bookstores that carry Spanish-language titles. Amanuta will also have a booth at FIL.
Ximena Diego is the former children reviews editor at Críticas magazine. She is the founder of Chau Luna, a children’s book bookseller.